The 50,000 American Indian students served by Bureau of Indian Affairs schools deserve higher academic standards, greater parental involvement and local control, and more flexible and efficient federal support.
These children deserve the essential tools of educational reform that will allow them to receive a high quality education in good schools-an education that will properly prepare them for the challenges of the 21st century.
American Indian students deserve nothing less.
President Bush's recently enacted No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which contains the four pillars of his education reform, will provide these critical tools to BIA-funded schools across the nation: accountability and testing; flexibility and local control; funding for what works; and expanded parental options for children in failing schools.
This reform initiative is part of the Administration's overall program to provide quality education for Indian children in structurally sound and adequately equipped and maintained schools. The President's fiscal year 2002 budget provided $129.7 million for new construction at seven Indian schools and $61 million for improvements and repairs at 10 other BIA schools.
Within Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Office of Indian Education Programs manages 185 elementary and secondary schools in 23 states. About a third of them are operated directly by the BIA, while the other two-thirds are operated under contract or grants to Indian tribal groups. The bureau functions as a 51st state for the purpose of receiving Education Department program funds for BIA schools and students.
The president's reform initiative supports the long-range education goals for the BIA school system that were identified by Indian tribes, school boards, administrators and teachers. Those goals are to have Indian children read independently by the third grade; make 70 percent of them proficient in reading and math; increase attendance rates to 90 percent; demonstrate knowledge of their language and culture; and, for post-secondary students, increase their rates of enrollment, retention, placement and graduation.
The No Child Left Behind legislation, which President Bush signed on Jan. 9, requires greater accountability for student progress and academic achievement. It also empowers Indian parents with information about their children's schools, teachers and progress.
The new law provides schools with greater flexibility in the use of federal education funds, consolidates and streamlines programs and targets resources to existing programs for Indian students.
For the first time, BIA funded schools will be eligible for funding under the Reading First initiative to establish reading programs for Indian children in grades K-3. And all BIA-operated schools are eligible for competitive programs under the Act.
Other important initiatives contained in the law include:
Mandating that all BIA funded schools be accredited, or a candidate for accreditation, within 24 months from enactment of the Act; calling for a report on establishing a tribal accreditation agency for BIA-funded schools; increasing the funding amount schools can receive at the start of each school year; consolidating all BIA personnel and support services that are "directly and substantially" involved in education within the Office of Indian Education Programs; and authorizing a demonstration project to integrate federal education and related services provided to Indian students with streamlined reporting requirements.
We will work closely with the Department of Education to bring more accountability to our schools and improve education for all students in Indian Country. The thrust of this reform initiative is to assure Indian Country's parents that BIA funded schools will be held accountable for the quality and success of the education services they provide.
An Indian child who goes without a quality education is a dream that may never be fulfilled. We are committed to making the dreams of Indian children a reality. These children deserve nothing less than our very best efforts.